10 ways you can reduce your risk of cancer
Figures from Cancer Research UK show that someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes.
However, research shows small lifestyle changes could prevent a staggering 40% of Britain’s cancers. So, here are ten ways that you can reduce your cancer risk.
1. Don’t smoke
Smoking is linked to various types of cancer, including cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, pancreas, bladder, cervix, and kidney. Even if you’re not a smoker, exposure to second-hand smoke could increase your risk of lung cancer.
Deciding to quit smoking – or never starting in the first place – is a key way of reducing your cancer risk. If you need help giving up, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the support that is available.
2. Eat a healthy diet
Choosing healthier food and drink options can also help you to reduce your cancer risk, and it has lots of other health benefits.
- Make sure you get your ‘five a day’. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and other foods from plant sources, such as whole grains and beans
- Choose fewer high-calorie foods including those high in saturated fats and refined sugars
- Limit the amount of processed meat you eat. A report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that eating large amounts of processed meat can slightly increase the risk of certain types of cancer
- Easting a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may result in a reduced risk of breast cancer.
3. Get plenty of exercise
The World Cancer Research Fund says there is strong evidence that being active reduces the risk of cancers including colon and breast cancer.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. This is where you are a little out of breath but can still talk comfortably. You are trying to increase your heartbeat and breathe a little deeper.
If you are already active for 30 minutes a day, increasing your effort could reduce your risk even more.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight could help to lower the risk of various types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, prostate, lung, colon, and kidney.
Research has shown that the most likely cause of cancer is that fat cells release hormones that are linked with a higher risk of cancer. Being overweight also increases the level of the hormone insulin in your body, which can encourage the growth of cancer cells. Higher levels of insulin are a common feature of many cancers, including bowel, kidney, and pancreatic cancers.
If you can lose a little bit of weight, particularly around the waist area, this could help to reduce your cancer risk.
5. Protect yourself against the sun
- Skin cancer is one of the most common kinds of cancer, and one of the easiest to prevent. Consider measures such as:
- Staying out of the sun in the middle of the day when the sun is strongest
- Staying in the shade. Sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim can also help
- Covering as much of your skin as possible
- Wearing bright or dark colours that reflect more ultraviolet radiation than pastels
- Using sun cream with an SPF of at least 30. Apply generously and reapply every two hours (more if you are swimming)
- Avoiding sunbeds and lamps as these do as much damage as natural sunlight.
6. Regular checks
Attending your regular screenings can help to discover cancer early, and when treatment is most likely to be successful. Self-examination can also be beneficial.
Regular self-exams and screenings for cancer of the skin, colon, cervix, and breast can help you to find problems early. Speak to your doctor about the screening programmes that are available.
7. Cut down on the amount you drink
Alcohol is a known cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, breast, liver, and bowel. Some research also suggests there may be a link between heavy drinkers and the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Our bodies break down alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA and stop our cells from repairing the damage. The breakdown of alcohol in our bodies can also generate harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species, which can damage DNA and proteins.
In addition, alcohol also increases levels of the hormone oestrogen which increase the risk of breast cancer.
In the UK, the guideline is to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over at least three days for both men and women. A pint of lower strength beer is two units, while a large glass of wine is three units.
8. Get immunised
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a family of common viruses that are passed on during skin-to-skin contact, particularly sexual activity. While most types of HPV do not cause any problems, some are high risk and increase the risk of cancers such as cervical or anal cancer.
The HPV vaccine works in the same way as other vaccines. The body reacts to the vaccine by making antibodies which help the immune system fight and clear the HPV infection so it can’t cause cancer.
In England, girls and boys aged 12 to 13 years are routinely offered the first HPV vaccination when they're in school Year 8. The second dose is normally offered 6 to 12 months after the first.
9. Take an aspirin
Evidence suggests that taking a low dose aspirin every day could prevent colorectal or bowel cancer, which affects over 40,000 Brits each year.
Many medical experts are convinced of aspirin’s benefit. Professor Peter Johnson, professor of medical oncology at the University of Southampton and chief clinician for Cancer Research UK, says: “The evidence is strong that taking aspirin for five years or more reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer.
“It’s also been found that people who do get cancer are at less risk of having it spread if they take aspirin. Aspirin may work by reprogramming the way the immune system works, affecting the inflammation pathways in the lining of the gut, and thus helping it to recognise very early cancers and remove them.”
Taking an aspirin can have side effects, so always consult your GP first.
10. Eat more fibre
Increasing your intake of fibre, such as whole grain oats, brown rice, and wholemeal bread is particularly associated with a lowered risk of bowel cancer. Some research has suggested it may help prevent breast and prostate cancers too.
Studies show consistently that people who eat lots of fibre, fruit and vegetables have low levels of cancer. One of the reasons could be that these people consequently have a healthy gut microbiome that helps the immune system fight off cancers.
Protect yourself should the worst happen
There are around 367,000 new cancer cases in the UK every year - around 1,000 every day – and around 450 people die from cancer in this country every day.
What would you do if you a specialist diagnosed you with cancer? If you had to take time off work, would you still be able to support your family? Pay your mortgage or bills? Or maintain your standard of living while you concentrate on your recovery?
Cancer Research UK say that one in two people in the UK will get cancer during their lives. So, if you don’t want to worry about your finances at an already stressful time, make sure you have some Critical Illness protection in place.
Critical Illness cover will provide you with a tax-free lump sum if you are diagnosed with a serious form of cancer, enabling you to repay your mortgage, fund your lifestyle if you have to take time off work, or pay for medical care or adaptations to your home.
1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer. So, how likely am I to be diagnosed with a critical illness?
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